Thursday, February 28, 2019

Why You Don't Turn On Your Fixer

This is why you don't piss off your fixer.  Michael Cohen's testimony and evidence puts Donald Trump in a very precarious position now.

Sometimes commentary does not do the issue justice.  Here are a few of the most horrifying passages from his testimony.

"For the record: Individual #1 is President Donald J. Trump." - the individual implicated in Cohen's conviction.

On Mr. Trump's character:
"Mr. Trump is an enigma.  He is complicated, as am I.  He has both good and bad, as do we all. But the bad far outweighs the good, and since taking office, he has become the worst version of himself.  He is capable of behaving kindly, but he is not kind.  He is capable of committing acts of generosity, but he is not generous.  He is capable of being loyal, but he is fundamentally disloyal."

"Donald Trump is a man who ran for office to make his brand great, not to make our country great.  He had no desire or intention to lead this nation - only to market himself and to build his wealth and power.  Mr. Trump would often say, this campaign was going to be the 'greatest infomercial in political history.'"

On Trump falsifying a bone spur to keep him out of the Vietnam war:
"You think I'm stupid? I wasn't going to Vietnam."

On Trump's racism:
"While we were once driving through a struggling neighborhood in Chicago, he commented that only black people could live that way.  And he told me that black people would never vote for him because they were too stupid."

On Russia:
"I recalled Don Jr. leaning over to his father and speaking in a low voice, which I could clearly hear, and saying: 'The meeting is all set.'  I remember Mr. Trump saying, 'Ok good...let me know."

"Mr. Trump knew of and directed the Trump Moscow negotiations throughout the campaign and lied about it.  He lied about it because he never expected to win the election. He also lied about it because he stood to make hundreds of millions of dollars on the Moscow real estate project."

"Mr. Trump did not directly tell me to lie to Congress.  That's not how he operates.  In conversations we had during the campaign, at the same time I was actively negotiating in Russia for him, he would look me in the eye and tell me there's no business in Russia and then go out and lie to the American people by saying the same thing.

In a way, he was telling me to lie."

On other crimes committed for and perpetrated by Donald Trump:

  • Concealment of records - "letters I wrote at Mr. Trump's direction that threatened his high school, colleges, and the College Board not to release his grades or SAT scores."
  • Fraud via a charitable organization - "a copy of an article with Mr. Trump's handwriting on it that reported on the auction of a portrait of himself - he arranged for the bidder ahead of time and then reimbursed the bidder from the account of his non-profit charitable foundation, with the picture now hanging in one of his country;"
  • Campaign Finance Fraud - "a copy of a check Mr. Trump wrote from his personal bank account - after he became president - to reimburse me for the hush money payments I made to cover up his affair with an adult film star and prevent damage to his campaign;"
  • Tax Fraud - "It was my experience that Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes, such as trying to be listed among the wealthiest people in Forbes, and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes."

In summary,
"I'm ashamed that I chose to take part in concealing Mr. Trump's illicit acts rather than listening to my own conscience. 

I am ashamed because I know what Mr. Trump is. 

He is a racist. 

He is a conman. 

He is a cheat."

And the saddest thing is, we know that for a large part of the population, this will make absolutely no difference.  We can pray that the courts feel otherwise.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Vindication, Justification, and Justice for the Oxford Comma

Take that Associated Press Stylebook!

The Oxford comma just proved its worth.

The Oxford comma, or serial comma, refers to the last comma before a conjunction in a series of three or more.  For example, in the sentence "I like apples, bananas, and oranges," the comma before "and oranges" is the Oxford comma.

In recent years, usage has fallen somewhat out of favor, with the AP Style guide being one major proponent of its removal.  This decision has been the subject of much debate, with the Chicago Manual of Style and the Oxford University Style Guide still recommending it (hence the name).

I have always been in favor of the Oxford comma.  They will pry it from my cold, dead, and lifeless hands.  It's necessary to avoid confusion.  For instance, think of the sentence "I love my parents, Lady Gaga and Robert Downey, Jr."  Does this sentence mean the person loves their parents and also loves Lady Gaga and Robert Downey, Jr., or does it mean that the person's parents are Lady Gaga and Robert Downey, Jr.?  The Oxford comma would clear all confusion.

And it's this type of confusion that is potentially going to cost Oakhurst Dairy an estimated $10 million.  The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has handed down an opinion in O'Connor v. Oakhurst Dairy, No. 16-1901 (1st Cir. 2017), that focuses on the ambiguity found from the lack of an Oxford comma in the states overtime exemptions.

Maine's overtime law provides an exemption for the "canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: agricultural produce, meat and fish products, and perishable foods."  With the way the statute is constructed, does it exempt the packing for shipment and distribution as one category or the packing and distribution of the food categories as two separate exemptions?  Further, because of this question, is only distribution limited to agricultural produce, meat and fish products, and perishable foods?  Or are all the actions for exemption limited to the three categories listed?

The case centered on delivery drivers who distributed the perishable foods but did not pack them.  Whether the drivers were subject to the law denying them thousands of dollars a year in overtime pay depends entirely on how the sentence is read.  Had a comma been placed after shipment there would be no doubt, but with the absence of a comma, the Court of Appeals sided with the drivers, finding enough uncertainty in the statutory construction to rule in their favor, making them potentially eligible for overtime.

According to the judge, "Specifically, if that exemption used a serial comma to mark off the last of the activities that it lists, then the exemption would clearly encompass an activity that the drivers perform. And, in that event, the drivers would plainly fall within the exemption and thus outside the overtime law’s protection. But, as it happens, there is no serial comma to be found in the exemption’s list of activities, thus leading to this dispute over whether the drivers fall within the exemption from the overtime law or not."

Put simply, for the want of a comma we have a case and a ruling.

This isn't the first case that has centered on the use of a comma.  Nor will it be the last until we can get the AP Stylebook to reinstate the Oxford comma.

Now, if I could just get a legal decision to settle the debate on and continue to require two spaces after a period.  

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

We Have a Long Way to Go

As if we needed proof.

We've recently seen both open and explicit reminders and subtle and quiet reminders of how far we have to come regarding addressing racism, racial discrimination, and bias.  

First, much attention has been drawn to Spike Lee's Oscar acceptance speech, with some, including our President, referring to it as racist.

Here's the text of Spike's acceptance speech (included below).  I'm having trouble finding the racism in there.

"The word today is “irony.” The date, the 24th. The month, February, which also happens to be the shortest month of the year, which also happens to be Black History month. The year, 2019. The year, 1619. History. Her story. 1619. 2019. 400 years.

Four hundred years. Our ancestors were stolen from Mother Africa and bought to Jamestown, Virginia, enslaved. Our ancestors worked the land from can’t see in the morning to can’t see at night. My grandmother, Zimmie Shelton Retha, who lived to be 100 years young, who was a Spelman College graduate even though her mother was a slave. My grandmother who saved 50 years of Social Security checks to put her first grandchild — she called me “Spikie-poo” — she put me through Morehouse College and NYU grad film. NYU!

Before the world tonight, I give praise to our ancestors who have built this country into what it is today along with the genocide of its native people. We all connect with our ancestors. We will have love and wisdom regained, we will regain our humanity. It will be a powerful moment. The 2020 presidential election is around the corner. Let’s all mobilize. Let’s all be on the right side of history. Make the moral choice between love versus hate. Let’s do the right thing! You know I had to get that in there."

What I see is a reminder of our uncomfortable history and a call to action.  It's not racist to disagree with the President.  It's not racist to say that Trump is on the wrong side of history. There are people of all races who think that.

It is ironic that a President who has trouble identifying actual racists believes Spike Lee to be one.  And also ironic that a President known for having issues with a teleprompter calls out Spike for reading from his notes.

I mean, I get it.  Spike's style is in your face. It's real.  It's visceral.  But that's his point.  BlacKkKlansman, his opus presented last year, opens with bookends of films within the film.  It opens with a long tracking shot from Gone With the Wind revealing the Confederate wounded, showing our twisted vision of a grand noble Dixie.  A Technicolor dream of the Old South.  In the middle, it slips in clips of The Birth of a Nation, a problematic  silent epic that on one hand cemented films legacy, but also was blatant propaganda for the Klu Klux Klan.  It ends with the reality of the live footage of the Charlottesville marches.  All gut punches that remind us of what we've been through and where we are.  How much this truly racist strain is among us.

But his speech Sunday night?  That's a good speech and a relatively restrained Spike.  I shudder how people calling him racist would react to his movies.

Plus, props to him for trying to walkout when Green Book was announced for Best Picture.  I'd have thrown my hands up too.

As a further reminder of how far we still have to go in more insidious ways, New York City, as of February 18, 2019, just passed an ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on hair or hairstyle.  Specifically, the guidelines mention the right to maintain "natural hair, treated or untreated hairstyles such as locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, fades, Afros, and or the right to keep hair in an uncut or untrimmed state."  Workplace bans on any of these specific types of hairstyles would disproportionately affect minorities, specifically African Americans.  And they are surprisingly common.

As the article states, the guidelines are based on an argument that hairstyle is inherent to one's race and can be closely associated with racial, ethnic, or cultural identity, therefor deserving protection under the city's human rights laws.  This is currently something that is protected only at a local level.  There is no legal precedent in federal court for the protection of hair.  Last spring, the Supreme Court refused to hear arguments on Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Catastrophe Management Solutions (2013, Alabama), in which a black woman, Chastity Jones, had her job offer at an insurance company rescinded after she refused to cut off her dreadlocks.  The lower courts had ruled that the company's actions did not constitute racial discrimination.

This is tied to the idea of "good hair" - visibly loosely curled, wavy, and/or straight hair as opposed to tightly coiled hair.  The idea that somehow one style of hair is better than the other.  That natural hair is not desired.

I mean think about it.  It's 2019 and we have to forcibly remind people that others should be allowed to wear their hair as it naturally comes out of their heads!

We've made great strides, no question.  But we've got a long way to go.  And we really need to stamp out some fires that are coming back that we thought we put out long ago.


Monday, February 25, 2019

Oscar 2019

The 2019 Oscars are finally done.  After all the missteps and controversies along the way, the ceremony last night went off without a hitch.  Thankfully, after a few years of not having access at home to watch the ceremony since cutting the cord, we were able to put together a way to stream the show and watch the full presentation of the awards.

I have a few thoughts.

First, addressing the controversies that popped up throughout the year.  I am grateful they did not award a most popular picture category, as I've written before.  That is not what this ceremony is for, and thankfully cooler heads prevail.  That did not prevent well-seen popular films from being nominated or even winning awards.  Black Panther took home three Academy awards for Best Achievement in Costume Design, Best Achievement in Production Design, and for Best Score.   A first for a Marvel Studios Production.

I'm also glad they put the Best Film Editing, Best Film Cinematography, Beast Makeup and Hairstyling, and Best Live-Action Short back into the broadcast.  The broadcast ran at a brisk three hours and eighteen minutes, longer than they hoped for, but still very efficient.  If they really wanted to fix the broadcast in an impactful way, they might decide against airing only one announcement between commercial breaks as the night goes on.  I don't need a break between Best Director and Best Picture and they are not really changing the set, so there's no need to shoehorn in the commercial there.

Plus, getting the televised ceremony under three hours is not going to attract new viewers to the broadcast.  Many of the people who are not watching the Oscars are not going to watch the Oscars no matter what the Academy changes.  From the people engaging in a so called "boycott" for political reasons to those who have no interest in the awards at all, perhaps it's time to stop trying to cater to a crowd that doesn't want to watch?  The "boycotts" fascinate me for two reasons.  First, generally the people claiming to boycott would not have watched the ceremony for any reason.  Second, the same people who want to boycott because of the political content of the show (i.e. the political jokes by the hosts and presenters and the potential political speeches of the recipients) are generally the first people to share on social media when a celebrity endorses their particular ideology.  Just an observation.

The lack of a host changed things in an unexpected way for me.

The show was boring without a host.

A host brings their personality into the show and generally gives the show its personality.  Without a host to provide color commentary or to smooth transitions, the show was a rapid fire movement between presenters of the awards with only a disembodied voice announcing the presenters.  There's no soul to the show, it just kind of happens.  Hopefully, there will not be a repeat next year, and perhaps they can bring along some classically entertaining hosts to provide a great spirit to the show.

It also did not help that there were no real surprises (beyond the bombshell at the end of the night).  The awards were largely expected.  A few minor brights spots, but those still generally fell into expected votes.  Even the award to Green Book for Best Picture, while problematic, falls into a predictable pattern for the Academy.  Once you figure the Academy did not want to reward Netflix, Roma is out.  Then you assume Bohemian Rhapsody had enough controversy around it early enough to put off voters.  That leaves Green Book, a "safe" picture that supposedly deals with a tough topic and was seen by a decent enough population.  While personally, BlacKkKlansman should have won, I would have anticipated A Star is Born to be the surer bet.

While I would not go as far as to say it is the worst best picture since Crash, as the LA Times has done, Green Book is problematic.  A film about race that downplays the contributions of the African American subject of the story.  A film which did not consult his family for contribution to the story, and whose family has protested its release.  Knowing the controversy around the film and the way it is presented, really taint enjoyment of the film and the award.  Again, hopefully next year, the ref's make a better call, to paraphrase Spike Lee.

A few rapid fire thoughts to wrap up:

  • The Queen opening kind of just happened and did not work as well as they hoped it would.  Adam Lambert is no Freddie Mercury.
  • Politics were way down, despite what the Twitter of a leader might say
  • Very happy for Into the Spider-Verse to win Best Animated Feature.  
  • So glad Spike Lee finally got his Oscar.  He should have won at least one more.
  • Olivia Colman delivered the best speech of the night.
  • Really appreciative of the thought that went into each of the celebrities introducing the nominees for Best Picture.
  • Love that John Williams Superman score was used for the In Memoriam section, but TCM still makes a better one.
  • Props to Trevor Noah for one great hidden joke
  • Also to Tyler Perry.

Did you watch the ceremony?  What were your thoughts?

The Importance of Dates

This past weekend was a reminder of the importance of dates.  Of the importance of spending time one-on-one with the people you care about.

Jamie and I make it a point to have at least one date night a month.  We'd love for it to be at least one night a week.  On the once a month schedule, it's usually a Friday night/most of the day Saturday where we just have a little time to ourselves.  The kids enjoying time with their grandparents and cousins.  And us getting to relax.  Getting to go out and watch a show.  Getting to stay in and watch something they can't see yet.  Going to eat somewhere they would turn their nose up to.  Keeping that honeymoon period alive.

This weekend, we got to watch BlacKkKlansman (which totally should have won Best Picture).  We got to have two great meals.  Brunch at Oscar Delta and our favorite local Italian at Napolis.  We got dressed up and went to see Anastasia at the Music Hall at Fair Park.

But most importantly, we got to spend time together.  To get to talk, without interruption.  To just relax and be present together.  It's much a much needed recharging, preparing us for all that's ahead.

Almost equally as important, I got to have a Daddy-Daughter Date with Avalyn Sunday afternoon.  We've had a handful of movie outings just the two of us, but most of our previous dates have been breakfasts.  When I'm not on the Sunday schedule for all three services, I would take Avalyn to breakfast while Jamie worked the first service and then we'd both attend the second.

This Sunday, though, Avalyn and I both got dressed up to go see Disney's The Little Mermaid at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.  The Symphony played the score while the movie was shown on a large screen above them.  Jamie and I have seen Psycho and The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring this way, as well as several Looney Tunes shorts and Fantasia segments.

It was just an afternoon to invest in her.  She got to pick what music we listened to in the car (Mary Poppins Returns on the way, the original Mary Poppins on the way back).  She picked where we ate - Braums for both lunch before and an ice cream treat after the show.  She got to choose to walk to Klyde Warren Park after the show at the Meyerson to try to find the playground.

It was very clear that I was not the only dad who had the same idea at the show.  Several daddy-daughter dates, as well as mommy-daughter, mother-son, and full family outings.  And it was the perfect outing.  Something she's interested in.  Something that exposes her to something different, something more than she has seen.  To get to teach her about the symphony, to let her know I used to work for one, and especially for her to see a female conductor, to be able to see that as a possibility.

Both dates were absolutely worth it and I would not trade a minute of either of them.

But, both dates were also hard.

This is the crazy season for us, with Jamie rehearsing into the night getting ready for competition in a couple of weeks.  Work is ramping up and requiring a few more later stays in the office.  It's tough to even schedule a date night now.  We were all exhausted this past weekend and could have easily spent the days lounging around and just trying to catch up on rest and sleep.

I'm glad we didn't.  I'm glad to have those moments together with my wife and with my daughter.

I'm a firm believer that our most precious resource is time.  It's the one worth fighting for the most.  It's what motivates me.  I'm not motivated by more money or more things unless they afford me more time.   If you want to incentivize me, offer me more time with my family.  With friends.  More time to invest in those I've been blessed with and chosen to be around.

Time is one of the few resources we can never accumulate.  It's always running away from us.  So spend it and take it wisely.

Jamie and I didn't get our show selfie, but Avalyn and I did, so I'm thought I would close by including it here.

To many, many, many more dates, date-nights, daddy-daughter dates, and father-son outings.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Life Keeps You Humble

Short post tonight.

Just got a reminder that life keeps you humble. No matter what.

Jamie and I had a great date day today and enjoyed a fun brunch, Anastasia at Dallas Summer Musicals, and had a great Italian dinner. We picked the kids up from their fun day with cousins. And wanted nothing more than to come home and get in pjs.

When we got home, I got the reminder to always check to make sure you have all the keys you think you have.

When we left, I grabbed a key ring that typically has just keys to Jamie’s car and the apartment. I grabbed those, locked the apartment from the inside, and then we headed out.

What I forgot is that Jamie had needed to take the apartment key off a few days ago and it had not been placed back on the ring.

So we got home, carrying everything up stairs and found ourselves locked out of the apartment.

We scrambled a bit to try and get in. Tried a couple of lock picking techniques to try and get in. And thankfully got our landlord to send someone with a master key.

Just a small reminder through a small inconvenience that life keeps you humble. It sends you reminders that of how lucky you are and how many things go right every day.

It keeps you thankful. Thankful for neighbors that entertain you and give you a bobby pin and flashlight to aid your attempts at lock picking. Thankful for a landlord and maintenance that can bring a spare key. Thankful for a family that can laugh at the situation. And thankful for time to write this blog.

The key is now back on the ring where it belongs.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Church Re-Imagined

With the previous three entries as context, the question then arises regarding what church should actually look like.  If we've seen how church can be misused, then how can church be implemented properly?  How is it re-imagined to be in line with what God intended?

The first mention of the church in the Bible is in Matthew 16:18.  Jesus talking to His disciples and referencing Peter (or Peter's statement, depending on your denomination) states "on this rock I will build my church." The word used here is ekklesia.  The "called out ones." The idea of an assembly of people.  A gathering of people called out from their homes to a place for a special purpose.

When church is used in the New Testament, it's not referring to a building or location.  It's referring to the assembly of God's people.  Paul's letters to Ephesus, to Corinth, to Galatia, then, are referring to the assembly of Christians (or followers of "the Way") in that particular location.

We see over and over again, that our emphasis should be on the people, our fellow followers of Christ.  With that in the right frame of reference, our view of church becomes radically different.

We remember that ...

Church is not a place, it's the people
It's not a designated time on Sunday
It's not one specific style.
It's not the only place where worship occurs or where teaching of the word occurs.
It is something that goes out, not something you come to.
It's much bigger than most of us think and encompasses believers across the globe.
It's not about us.
It's not for us.
It's about the One that we worship.

There's no specific outline that a Christian meeting must follow anywhere in scripture.  There are indications of the types of activities early Christians undertook, but there is nothing prescriptive about these passages.  Definitely no one formula for getting it "right."

Church could happen on an impromptu basis.  "For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them."  Matthew 18:20.   A shared meal with fellow believers - the Church has gathered.  A home Bible study - that's church.  Christian worship concert, definitely church.

The Church sings and exalts the name of our Creator.  It Lifts His Name on High.  "...addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ."  Ephesians 5:19-21.  And look, hymns and praise choruses (spiritual songs) are both covered!

The Church uses its gifts to bless one another.  "What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation.  Let all things be done for building up."  1 Corinthians 14:26.  What a different world we would live in if the universal Church were more interested in building each other up than tearing down the others outside our particular four walls.  Put another way, when one local "church" group hurts in your area, all churches in that area are suffering.  If one is struggling, the whole Church is struggling.

The Church corrects each other in love.  "If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you.  If they listen to you, you have won them over.  But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.'  If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector."  Matthew 18:15-17.  The key to this is love.  Love covers all the commandments.  And this should be seen as an intervention, not a judgment.  It's trying to hep family before they hurt themselves or others.  It's what comes with caring about your fellow believers.

When we can remember these, we get a lot closer to that Acts 2 church.  The kind of church that ate together.  Smiled and laughed together.  Cried and suffered together.  Shared everything they had and took care of any needs - together.

"They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.  All the believers were together and had everything in common.  They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.  Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.  They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.  And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."

That's the Church that is alive.  That is compelling and attractive. That's when people notice

If you'd like to further dig into church reimagined, I recommend Stonepoint's series on the topic here.  The two previous sermons are uploaded here to get caught up.

If you are in the Wills Point area and would like to find an assembly of believers to connect and grow with, to live life with and try to find that Acts 2 experience, and would like to learn more about Stonepoint, you can find out more here.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Weaponized Church

Continuing the series started Tuesday, today turns to the most dangerous form of social churching.  When the church becomes weaponized.  Used to purposefully exclude, persecute, abuse, or extinguish individuals or groups of individuals that it opposes.  The ultimate club mentality, where exclusivity is something to be prized and protected.  The prime insular, inward focus of the organization.

Throughout history, we've seen this kind of weaponized religion at play.  A church that promoted the Crusades.  The Salem Witch Trials.  A church that sided with slavery in the American South and perpetuated the "Curse of Ham."  Christianity co-opted and used to forward antisemitism, from historic uses of "passion plays" to fan the flames, to accusations of blood libel and host desecration, to the perversion of the faith used by the Nazis to justify the Holocaust.  The outright persecution the church has often lobbied at the LGBTQ community.

A recent Relevant article posits these as the product of the cherry-picking of old covenant and new covenant.  Selecting the parts of the Old Testament God that we like (fire and brimstone, death to our enemies) and ignoring the bits from the New Testament Jesus that would get in the way (love everyone, including our enemies).  And when the church exists for the social benefit, for the exultation of its members, Biblical ignorance and/or misuse usually follows.  

"The church has a terrible habit of selectively rebranding aspects of the old covenant and smuggling them into the new.

The blended model began as early as the second century when church leaders essentially kidnapped the Jewish Scriptures and claimed them as their own.  In the fourth century, following the legalization of Christian worship under Constantine, church officials began leveraging old covenant concepts to validate the creation of an imperial form of the church.

During this same period, the church began doing to pagans what pagans had done to the church.  By the eleventh century, the church offered 'get out of hell free' cards to anyone who would join a crusade.  By the fifteenth century, the church was at war with itself over theology.  Entire villages were razed in the name of a version of Christian theology.  Over and over, Christianity was weaponized in Jesus' name.

Whenever and wherever the old was blended with the new, unchristian behavior and attitudes ensued."

We don't have to look far for modern examples.  Martin Luther King, Jr. identified the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o'clock on Sunday morning, and that's still largely true.   While on the rise, multiracial congregations (those where at least 20% of the congregation differ from the majority race) account for only 14% of churches.  And while we pretend this is largely due to self-selection, de facto segregation, how many of us actually seek racially diverse places of worship?

Further, the role of women in ministry has split denominations, as has the inclusion of LGBTQ people in services and ministry (examples here, here, here, here, here, and here).  The United Methodist Church General Conference will vote on LGBT issues this weekend, which could end up tearing the denomination apart. These are such flashpoint and divisive issues, that they are gating questions for leadership in many churches.  And it's not just that people disagree or have reached different conclusion on the Biblical-correctness of women or LGBTQ in positions of leadership, in particular, it's that the different viewpoint is often seen as all that is wrong with the world.

We can go further.

How about the misogyny in the statements collected by the hashtag that circulated a couple of years ago #ThingsOnlyChristianHear?   Things like "You speak five languages and have a doctoral degree?  Children's ministry is your calling!"  Or "Women can't be in leadership positions.  You should marry a guy who feels called to that position and help him."  Or "You can't serve communion, but you are expected to serve at the potluck later."  Or "Your (sexual) purity is the greatest gift you have to give."  Or the combination of "Only men are strong enough to lead." with "Men just aren't strong enough to resist your above-mid-thigh shorts.".

How about the rise of politics as a wedge issue in the church?  Pastors that outright state you have to vote Republican to be a good Christian, like Robert Jeffress stating "I believe any Christian who would sit at home and not vote for the Republican nominee...that person is being motivated by pride rather than principle...".  Even Franklin Graham more recently with "Christians should be aware of candidates who call themselves progressive.  Progressive is generally just a code word for someone who leans toward socialism, who does not believe in God & who will likely vote against Godly principles that are so important to our nation."

It goes with out saying that we can point out extreme examples like the cult of Westboro as well, well known for its "God Hates" rhetoric and protests.  Or the rise of white nationalist movements often tied to perverted "Christian" views.  To be fair, these are the extremes and these are the hot button social issues that are being used to perpetuate an "us" versus "them" mentality.

We can also look to the ways the church has been weaponized to protect abusers within its leadership or membership and to cast blame on the victims that speak up.  In the Catholic priest sexual abuse and cover up scandal.  In the Southern Baptist Convention sexual abuse and cover up scandal.  In the rape of nuns by priests in the Catholic Church, an abuse that has just now been recognized.  In each case, the secrecy, the hierarchy, the autonomy of the "church" was used to shield the "church" from scandal, protecting the abuser to the detriment of the victim.  Membership has its privileges in a social church setting.

We can look at how fast doctrinal differences get labeled heresy.  "For followers of Jesus, who claim to have the love of God in their hearts, we don't always act in a manner fitting of the God we serve.  Jesus tells His followers we will be known by their love.  Anyone reading our online postings or the comments written under Christian articles by Christian people might struggle to see it.  There are few people more biting or cruel than a Christian who believes you have your theology wrong.  In the name of protecting the faith, we use weaponized dogma to destroy anyone who disagrees with us."  Tyler Edwards, We Need More Creators and Fewer CriticsRelevant Magazine, April 10, 2015. Just look at the uproar over something like Reckless Love.   How quickly everyone jumps to heresy for a perhaps overly poetic use of the word "reckless."

We can drill it down even further.  To the local church.  To church bullies.  Those who lay on the "a good Christian would" statements.  Or "all Christians will vote for/against..."  Those who offer up "the Lord told me to tell you..." despite what God may be speaking directly to you.

Let's approach it from a different angle.  Let's assume for a minute that anyone mentioned in the questions below is truly seeking to learn more about your church, religion, Christianity, and faith.

Are there groups of people that are explicitly not welcome at your church?  Types of people that would be shown the door?  Or people that would be welcomed only under certain rules or conditions?

Let's get more insidious.  Let's assume that no one is explicitly not welcome at your church.  Are there specific groups of people that would nonetheless feel unwelcome?  That would not be spoken to or interacted with?  Or worse, that would be talked about in hushed tones behind their backs?  People that "just wouldn't be a good fit?"

When church is a place people come to, when it is a particular hour to attend, when the members feel they have special privileges in that time period, then it is something that can be used as a club to keep "non-conformists" away.  Anyone who might upset the apple cart.  Who might make things messy or difficult.  The very anti-thesis of what the Church is supposed to be.

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
Matthew 11:28

Jesus calls us to welcome all who seek Him.  He calls us to be known for our love for Him and for other people.  And we seem to be failing at that.

If we really want to dig into why church attendance has been on the decline, there are some startling statistics.  The Public Religion Research Institute published a study entitled Exodus: Why Americans are Leaving Religion and Why They're Unlikely to Come Back.  In this study, PRRI dug into the causes of the dissatisfaction in the church that led to people leaving.   The highest cause identified was a lack of belief at 60%.  Beyond that, the following reasons accounted for the some of most prevalent other answers:

  • Negative religious teachings about or treatment of gay and lesbian people - 29%
  • The clergy sexual-abuse scandals - 19%
  • A traumatic event in your life - 18%
  • Church congregation became too focused on politics - 16%

Perhaps, even more concerning, of the unaffiliated Americans, 66% agree that religion causes more problems in society than it solves.  The largest group of unaffiliated Americans at 58%, the rejectionists, say that religion is not personally important in their lives and believes that religion as a whole does more harm than good in society.

We no longer have the favor of all the people, as the early church did in Acts.  We're becoming known as a weapon.  Not as the double-edged sword of Truth, but a club inflicting more harm on society than good.  I fear we are known for what we hate, instead of for our love.

And that should break our hearts.

Tomorrow - where to go from here.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The First Church of Preference

To build from yesterday, when social churching is the norm and we "attend church" for something other than fostering a deep relationship with our Creator, then "church" becomes built around our personal preferences.  It caters to the worshipers and not the one being worshiped.  It's another way that we've gotten the whole paradigm flipped and need to re-imagine what church really means.

We can see this in our worship services across America today.  We organize worship services based on music preferences.  Hymns, praise choruses, or modern radio singles.  Rock band, praise team, or choir.  High-holy or modern.  Instruments or a cappella.

We can even drill down further.  On age group preferences.  On day and time preferences.  You can choose based on the style of building you prefer.  On the amount of liturgy.

We pick services based on how well the pastor speaks.  How he makes us feel.  How long or short his messages are.  You used to be able to even find a church in Waco that would guarantee a 30 minute worship service on Sunday, and advertised that fact.

We pick churches based on the programs that they offer.  Is there a thriving kids ministry?  Youth ministry? Singles ministry? Seniors ministry?

In and of themselves, investigating these options is not wrong.  Often you can get a sense in how a church is thriving by looking at its various activities.  The problem occurs when each of these choices is put in front of whether the church is preaching and doing the Truth of the Word.  When our choice to join or leave a church is based on our preference and not on the Spirit of God.

For what God wants most, is willing and open hearts turned to Him.  For us to gather to exhort one another and to exalt His name.  Regardless of music, regardless of dress, regardless of location.  As with everything in Christianity, the focus is on something internal, not on all the window dressing that we put on it.

The other, larger issue surrounding the catering to personal preference within the church is that it exacerbates the fracturing of the Church into segregated pockets of Christians.  Preventing the Church from being a united body of Christ.

"Our society has made “preference” a synonym of church. Not only are we segregated racially, but in age as well. And we encourage it! First service is for those who prefer hymns while second service is for those who prefer upbeat, modern music. The older, wiser people head to first service while the younger, brasher people head to the second and everyone suffers the death of segregation. If we can’t agree on a way of doing church together, we’ll just host multiple churches inside of one."
Relevant Magazine, February 19, 2019

It's incredible how fractured and divided, how segmented and split Christianity has become.  It goes far beyond the eleven major denominations of Christianity.  Each of those fractures into several different individual groups.  Just look at all the different variations of Baptists that cannot get along.  Primitive Baptists do not associate religiously with the "mainstream" Baptist faction.  Seventh Day Baptists are split from Sunday Baptists.  And so on and so on.  Wikipedia lists over 60 different national bodies for the Baptist denomination in America.

From there, you can even have two churches in the same town of the exact same denomination that never interact with one another.  How many towns do we go through that have a First, Second, Central, etc. Baptist Church in them?

The Local Churches Guide for Wills Point from 2015 lists twenty-two churches.  Those are just ones with a Wills Point address.  That's astounding for a town with a population of 3,608 people.  That would mean each church could have an attendance of 164 people, if everything were evenly divided.

And were that the case, were those churches full and alive and vibrant and united, there might be reason to celebrate having that many churches in such a small community.  But what we know that is not the case.  When Stonepoint was founded, eight years ago, our pastor did some digging into comparing the reported numbers of attendance with actual weekly attendance numbers.   And he found the discrepancy to reveal the population in the Wills Point area to be around 70% un-churched or under-churched.  Something that confirmed the need for a church plant actively ministering to those groups.

It seems to me, that the twenty-two churches in this small town does not represent something to celebrate.  Instead it represents a larger failure of the body of Christ to get along.

How many churches exist because someone disagreed on the style of music in worship?  On the length of the message?  On the color of the carpet?  You laugh at that last one, but I've heard of a church split on that very issue.

And I don't mean to pick on Wills Point.  I could do the same for Buna, my hometown.  Or for any number of towns across the country.

When church exists for our preferences, we then make little kingdoms for ourselves to feel comfortable in.  It's a country club or day spa.  Somewhere we have rights and privileges.  Instead of the place where we all have incredible responsibilities.

"We have made church to be a place of comfort when in actuality, it should be one of the least comfortable places we go all week.  It should be a place where God continually calls us to something greater and bigger - a deeper holiness; a more extravagant worship than last week; a greater depth of inner-healing; a conviction to confess something to another.

It should be a place we choose to attend based on the discomfort of having to interact with people who are different than us in some way, whether it be culture, language or something else.  It shouldn't be a place we choose to attend because it has cupholders, theater seating and a lack of the Holy Spirit so things don't get too weird, heavy or off-schedule."

The Church is supposed to be the people of God, united in His cause.  It's the reason the Nicene creed refers to it as one holy catholic and apostolic Church.  Little "c" catholic in this context refers to the universal Church.  The one body of believers that represents all of Christendom.

It's supposed to push us forward.  To bandage us up when we get hurt, but to keep us in the fight.

It's why we should see more churches working together for the benefit of their communities and for the Kingdom of God.  To have a thriving community of believers all unified in singular purpose, regardless of difference in preferences or in minor theological points.

Look at how often Paul reminds us of our need for unity, of our ultimate purpose, in his letter to the Ephesians.

"As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."
Ephesians 4:1-6

Let's move beyond preference.  Let's move beyond what church is seen to be.  Let's move into that radical direction of what the Church is really supposed to be.  Something that goes out with us, to all the ends of the Earth.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Social Churching

Over the next couple of days I have articles inspired by our churches current series Church Reimagined.  In it, we're looking at the ways we've mangled what church is supposed to be.  How we've drifted from the original design and purpose, and how we get back to that.

For today's blog, I want to focus on a point our pastor made in the opening part of his sermon.  He opened with an illustration regarding the start of Billy Graham's ministry and how that led to a great revival across the country and ultimately across the globe.  In many ways, that being the last great revival our country has seen. 

He discussed how there is often a desire to go back to that golden age of the 1950s.  To back to a time when churches were full.  A time when, especially in the Bible belt, it was the norm.  Businesses closed on Sundays thanks to blue laws.  People went to church and then gathered as a family to eat.  It was just what was done.

I've long believed that one of Satan's greatest victories was making Christianity widespread, accepted, and mainstream.  Making it no longer the underground, underdog movement that required dedication to keep it alive, but rather turning it, often, into the dominant social hierarchy of a community. 

I've described this as "social churching."  It's like social drinking - doing something because it's just what everyone else does.  Attending for the social benefits, to be seen, because it is the power center of the community, and on and on and on.  It's what is normal, what good people "do," and just the way things are done in America.  Going to the building "church" for any other reason that a deeply held conviction and belief in the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

Religion is social churching.  It's what has a person continue to go out of habit, although they no longer believe (or never believed).  Where family members are forced to continue to attend, though they have no personal connection to the faith. 

And, as we discussed on Sunday, it's what has us view evangelism as only asking someone to come to our church, letting the church do all of the work, instead of engaging in a conversation about faith, life, struggles, and everything in between.

It's what has us convinced church is something we come to instead of viewing the Church as something that goes out into the world to effect change.  The Great Commission is pretty clear that we are to go to the world, not wait for it to come to us.  "Then Jesus came to them and said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'”  Matthew 28:18-20.  This describes a people that are active followers, looking for new opportunities to invest in those around them. 

This also manifests in the way we receive people in our lives and in the church. It means there will be rough, broken, hurting people that we are connecting with.  Not expecting them to look or act a certain way.  It means we have non-Christian friends.  That things will get messy.  That our social circles are diverse in race, age, gender, creed, faith-level, politic, etc.  And that our churches might actually reflect this reality too, though that's a topic for tomorrow's blog.

Social churching is also what tints our memories to convince us that the fuller churches of the past contained nothing but devoted followers of Christ, instead of many people who just filled pews.  That let's us forget that Jesus talked about the many different types of people who may fill a pew, but never have a true relationship with Him.  "He said, 'A farmer went out to plant his seed. He scattered the seed on the ground. Some fell on a path. Birds came and ate it up. Some seed fell on rocky places, where there wasn't much soil. The plants came up quickly, because the soil wasn't deep. When the sun came up, it burned the plants. They dried up because they had no roots. Other seed fell among thorns. The thorns grew up and crowded out the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It produced a crop 100, 60 or 30 times more than what was planted. Those who have ears should listen and understand.'"  Matthew 13:1-9

As today, there were a lot of people throughout history that sat in a church building and fell into one of the three first categories of soil that Jesus discussed.  People that came and heard, maybe even came and heard the message every week, but the seed never took root.  Seed on the path, eaten by birds.

Or maybe people who came and got really invested for a moment.  But they were perpetual seekers. It never took deep root, just burned out quickly and led them onto their next spiritual quest.  Rocky soil, always looking, searching for something, never finding.

Or perhaps those who came and appeared solid, but quickly became over committed.  Running here and there, burnt out by activity.  Choked by thorns.

When church attendance is a social expectation, a social obligation instead of a deeply held belief or conviction centered around a relationship with Christ, it is far easier for these first three categories to exist.  For the preaching and teaching of the word an activity that they are looking to cross off their list instead of something that is seen as necessary spiritual encouragement and infilling.  The message is something to be critiqued or appreciated on the style of the pastor, the timbre of his voice, the length of the message, the usage of illustrations or humor, instead of for the dedication to the Gospel.

Don't get me wrong, I do not want to downplay the decline in church attendance over the decades.  The percentage of Americans who regularly attend religious services is currently at a low point.  According to the Gallup Poll survey, only 36% of Americans answered "yes" to the question "Did you, yourself, happen to attend church or synagogue in the last seven days, or not?"  This is down from a peak in the 1950s around 49%.  There is further a very likely probability that even this number is overinflated, due to a desire to appear better and maintain perceptions of being a "good person."  In one study in the early 1990s, sociologists found actual weekly church attendance in one rural county in Ohio was only about 20%, whereas self-reported attendance was 36%.

My suspicion is that this decrease has more to do with social churching than a rejection of faith itself.  Pew research shows that while Americans are getting less religious, feelings of spiritual peace and well-being as well as a deep sense of wonder about the universe have actually risen.  And it's happening among both the highly religious people and the religiously unaffiliated.  An indication that the decline in church attendance likely has more to do with the view of church as a place you attend, a service that is sat through, another program that is added, another ministerial position, opposed to a decrease in a deep spiritual yearning for the Truth.  For Peace.

The last thing we need is churches full of people attending because of religion.   Coming into the building and never taking anything in that space with them out into the world.

Give me a small group of people that are a part of something living and outward moving any day.

Give me the Church, meeting 24/7 out there in the world, gathering together on Sunday mornings to get encouraged, bandaged up, and sent out to do it again.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Presidents' Day

Today marks the celebration of Presidents' Day.  Initially, a holiday in celebration of the birthday of President George Washington, the day has expanded to encompass the birthday of President Abraham Lincoln, as well as a celebration in honor of all those who have served as president of the United States of America.

In our current day, where our leadership disappoints us, where the divisions of our country seem to be widening, it is encouraging to look back to the exemplary presidents of our past for wisdom and counsel.

It is traditional today for Washington's Farewell Address to be read and it's surprising how much it is still applicable to us today.  He pleas for unity and warns against partisan fighting.  He emphasizes the purpose and importance checks on political power.  He pushes for neutrality and free trade.

I've included the text of his address below, with my emphasis added, as well as a bonus at the end.

The period for a new election of a citizen, to administer the executive government of the United States, being not far distant, and the time actually arrived, when your thoughts must be employed designating the person, who is to be clothed with that important trust, it appears to me proper, especially as it may conduce to a more distinct expression of the public voice, that I should now apprise you of the resolution I have formed, to decline being considered among the number of those out of whom a choice is to be made.

I beg you at the same time to do me the justice to be assured that this resolution has not been taken without a strict regard to all the considerations appertaining to the relation which binds a dutiful citizen to his country; and that in withdrawing the tender of service, which silence in my situation might imply, I am influenced by no diminution of zeal for your future interest, no deficiency of grateful respect for your past kindness, but am supported by a full conviction that the step is compatible with both.

The acceptance of, and continuance hitherto in, the office to which your suffrages have twice called me, have been a uniform sacrifice of inclination to the opinion of duty, and to a deference for what appeared to be your desire. I constantly hoped, that it would have been much earlier in my power, consistently with motives, which I was not at liberty to disregard, to return to that retirement, from which I had been reluctantly drawn. The strength of my inclination to do this, previous to the last election, had even led to the preparation of an address to declare it to you; but mature reflection on the then perplexed and critical posture of our affairs with foreign nations, and the unanimous advice of persons entitled to my confidence impelled me to abandon the idea.

I rejoice, that the state of your concerns, external as well as internal, no longer renders the pursuit of inclination incompatible with the sentiment of duty, or propriety; and am persuaded, whatever partiality may be retained for my services, that, in the present circumstances of our country, you will not disapprove my determination to retire.

The impressions, with which I first undertook the arduous trust, were explained on the proper occasion. In the discharge of this trust, I will only say, that I have, with good intentions, contributed towards the organization and administration of the government the best exertions of which a very fallible judgment was capable. Not unconscious, in the outset, of the inferiority of my qualifications, experience in my own eyes, perhaps still more in the eyes of others, has strengthened the motives to diffidence of myself; and every day the increasing weight of years admonishes me more and more, that the shade of retirement is as necessary to me as it will be welcome. Satisfied, that, if any circumstances have given peculiar value to my services, they were temporary, I have the consolation to believe, that, while choice and prudence invite me to quit the political scene, patriotism does not forbid it.

In looking forward to the moment, which is intended to terminate the career of my public life, my feelings do not permit me to suspend the deep acknowledgment of that debt of gratitude, which I owe to my beloved country for the many honors it has conferred upon me; still more for the steadfast confidence with which it has supported me; and for the opportunities I have thence enjoyed of manifesting my inviolable attachment, by services faithful and persevering, though in usefulness unequal to my zeal. If benefits have resulted to our country from these services, let it always be remembered to your praise, and as an instructive example in our annals, that under circumstances in which the passions, agitated in every direction, were liable to mislead, amidst appearances sometimes dubious, vicissitudes of fortune often discouraging, in situations in which not unfrequently want of success has countenanced the spirit of criticism, the constancy of your support was the essential prop of the efforts, and a guarantee of the plans by which they were effected. Profoundly penetrated with this idea, I shall carry it with me to my grave, as a strong incitement to unceasing vows that Heaven may continue to you the choicest tokens of its beneficence; that your union and brotherly affection may be perpetual; that the free constitution, which is the work of your hands, may be sacredly maintained; that its administration in every department may be stamped with wisdom and virtue; than, in fine, the happiness of the people of these States, under the auspices of liberty, may be made complete, by so careful a preservation and so prudent a use of this blessing, as will acquire to them the glory of recommending it to the applause, the affection, and adoption of every nation, which is yet a stranger to it.

Here, perhaps I ought to stop. But a solicitude for your welfare which cannot end but with my life, and the apprehension of danger, natural to that solicitude, urge me, on an occasion like the present, to offer to your solemn contemplation, and to recommend to your frequent review, some sentiments which are the result of much reflection, of no inconsiderable observation, and which appear to me all-important to the permanency of your felicity as a people. These will be offered to you with the more freedom, as you can only see in them the disinterested warnings of a parting friend, who can possibly have no personal motive to bias his counsel. Nor can I forget, as an encouragement to it, your indulgent reception of my sentiments on a former and not dissimilar occasion.

Interwoven as is the love of liberty with every ligament of your hearts, no recommendation of mine is necessary to fortify or confirm the attachment.

The unity of Government, which constitutes you one people, is also now dear to you. It is justly so; for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very Liberty, which you so highly prize. But as it is easy to foresee, that, from different causes and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed, to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite moment, that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national Union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the Palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion, that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.

For this you have every inducement of sympathy and interest. Citizens, by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of american, which belongs to you, in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of Patriotism, more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together; the Independence and Liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts, of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.

But these considerations, however powerfully they address themselves to your sensibility, are greatly outweighed by those, which apply more immediately to your interest. Here every portion of our country finds the most commanding motives for carefully guarding and preserving the Union of the whole.

The North, in an unrestrained intercourse with the South, protected by the equal laws of a common government, finds, in the productions of the latter, great additional resources of maritime and commercial enterprise and precious materials of manufacturing industry. The South, in the same intercourse, benefiting by the agency of the North, sees its agriculture grow and its commerce expand. Turning partly into its own channels the seamen of the North, it finds its particular navigation invigorated; and, while it contributes, in different ways, to nourish and increase the general mass of the national navigation, it looks forward to the protection of a maritime strength, to which itself is unequally adapted. The East, in a like intercourse with the West, already finds, and in the progressive improvement of interior communications by land and water, will more and more find, a valuable vent for the commodities which it brings from abroad, or manufactures at home. The West derives from the East supplies requisite to its growth and comfort, and, what is perhaps of still greater consequence, it must of necessity owe the secure enjoyment of indispensable outlets for its own productions to the weight, influence, and the future maritime strength of the Atlantic side of the Union, directed by an indissoluble community of interest as one nation. Any other tenure by which the West can hold this essential advantage, whether derived from its own separate strength, or from an apostate and unnatural connexion with any foreign power, must be intrinsically precarious.

While, then, every part of our country thus feels an immediate and particular interest in Union, all the parts combined cannot fail to find in the united mass of means and efforts greater strength, greater resource, proportionably greater security from external danger, a less frequent interruption of their peace by foreign nations; and, what is of inestimable value, they must derive from Union an exemption from those broils and wars between themselves, which so frequently afflict neighboring countries not tied together by the same governments, which their own rivalships alone would be sufficient to produce, but which opposite foreign alliances, attachments, and intrigues would stimulate and embitter. Hence, likewise, they will avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments, which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to Republican Liberty. In this sense it is, that your Union ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty, and that the love of the one ought to endear to you the preservation of the other.

These considerations speak a persuasive language to every reflecting and virtuous mind, and exhibit the continuance of the union as a primary object of Patriotic desire. Is there a doubt, whether a common government can embrace so large a sphere? Let experience solve it. To listen to mere speculation in such a case were criminal. We are authorized to hope, that a proper organization of the whole, with the auxiliary agency of governments for the respective subdivisions, will afford a happy issue to the experiment. It is well worth a fair and full experiment. With such powerful and obvious motives to Union, affecting all parts of our country, while experience shall not have demonstrated its impracticability, there will always be reason to distrust the patriotism of those, who in any quarter may endeavor to weaken its bands.

In contemplating the causes, which may disturb our Union, it occurs as matter of serious concern, that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing parties by Geographical discriminations, Northern and Southern, Atlantic and Western; whence designing men may endeavor to excite a belief, that there is a real difference of local interests and views. One of the expedients of party to acquire influence, within particular districts, is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heart-burnings, which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those, who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection. The inhabitants of our western country have lately had a useful lesson on this head; they have seen, in the negotiation by the Executive, and in the unanimous ratification by the Senate, of the treaty with Spain, and in the universal satisfaction at that event, throughout the United States, a decisive proof how unfounded were the suspicions propagated among them of a policy in the General Government and in the Atlantic States unfriendly to their interests in regard to the Mississippi; they have been witnesses to the formation of two treaties, that with Great Britain, and that with Spain, which secure to them every thing they could desire, in respect to our foreign relations, towards confirming their prosperity. Will it not be their wisdom to rely for the preservation of these advantages on the union by which they were procured? Will they not henceforth be deaf to those advisers, if such there are, who would sever them from their brethren, and connect them with aliens?

To the efficacy and permanency of your Union, a Government for the whole is indispensable. No alliances, however strict, between the parts can be an adequate substitute; they must inevitably experience the infractions and interruptions, which all alliances in all times have experienced. Sensible of this momentous truth, you have improved upon your first essay, by the adoption of a Constitution of Government better calculated than your former for an intimate Union, and for the efficacious management of your common concerns. This Government, the offspring of our own choice, uninfluenced and unawed, adopted upon full investigation and mature deliberation, completely free in its principles, in the distribution of its powers, uniting security with energy, and containing within itself a provision for its own amendment, has a just claim to your confidence and your support. Respect for its authority, compliance with its laws, acquiescence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true Liberty. The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their Constitutions of Government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish Government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established Government.

All obstructions to the execution of the Laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency. They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation, the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels, and modified by mutual interests.

However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people, and to usurp for themselves the reins of government; destroying afterwards the very engines, which have lifted them to unjust dominion.

Towards the preservation of your government, and the permanency of your present happy state, it is requisite, not only that you steadily discountenance irregular oppositions to its acknowledged authority, but also that you resist with care the spirit of innovation upon its principles, however specious the pretexts. One method of assault may be to effect, in the forms of the constitution, alterations, which will impair the energy of the system, and thus to undermine what cannot be directly overthrown. In all the changes to which you may be invited, remember that time and habit are at least as necessary to fix the true character of governments, as of other human institutions; that experience is the surest standard, by which to test the real tendency of the existing constitution of a country; that facility in changes, upon the credit of mere hypothesis and opinion, exposes to perpetual change, from the endless variety of hypothesis and opinion; and remember, especially, that, for the efficient management of our common interests, in a country so extensive as ours, a government of as much vigor as is consistent with the perfect security of liberty is indispensable. Liberty itself will find in such a government, with powers properly distributed and adjusted, its surest guardian. It is, indeed, little else than a name, where the government is too feeble to withstand the enterprises of faction, to confine each member of the society within the limits prescribed by the laws, and to maintain all in the secure and tranquil enjoyment of the rights of person and property.

I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the state, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party, generally.

This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind, (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight,) the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

It serves always to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

There is an opinion, that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the Government, and serve to keep alive the spirit of Liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in Governments of a Monarchical cast, Patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in Governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And, there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be, by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.

It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution, in those entrusted with its administration, to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart, is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position. The necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of political power, by dividing and distributing it into different depositories, and constituting each the Guardian of the Public Weal against invasions by the others, has been evinced by experiments ancient and modern; some of them in our country and under our own eyes. To preserve them must be as necessary as to institute them. If, in the opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way, which the constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for, though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed. The precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any partial or transient benefit, which the use can at any time yield.

Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connexions with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked, Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

It is substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who, that is a sincere friend to it, can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric ?

Promote, then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.

As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is, to use it as sparingly as possible; avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it; avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertions in time of peace to discharge the debts, which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burthen, which we ourselves ought to bear. The execution of these maxims belongs to your representatives, but it is necessary that public opinion should cooperate. To facilitate to them the performance of their duty, it is essential that you should practically bear in mind, that towards the payment of debts there must be Revenue; that to have Revenue there must be taxes; that no taxes can be devised, which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant; that the intrinsic embarrassment, inseparable from the selection of the proper objects (which is always a choice of difficulties), ought to be a decisive motive for a candid construction of the conduct of the government in making it, and for a spirit of acquiescence in the measures for obtaining revenue, which the public exigencies may at any time dictate.

Observe good faith and justice towards all Nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and Morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be, that good policy does not equally enjoin it? It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and, at no distant period, a great Nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt, that, in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages, which might be lost by a steady adherence to it ? Can it be, that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a Nation with its Virtue? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature. Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices ?

In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential, than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular Nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The Nation, which indulges towards another an habitual hatred, or an habitual fondness, is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The Nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the Government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The Government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times, it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of Nations has been the victim.

So likewise, a passionate attachment of one Nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite Nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest, in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter, without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite Nation of privileges denied to others, which is apt doubly to injure the Nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained; and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens, (who devote themselves to the favorite nation,) facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.

As avenues to foreign influence in innumerable ways, such attachments are particularly alarming to the truly enlightened and independent Patriot. How many opportunities do they afford to tamper with domestic factions, to practice the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the Public Councils! Such an attachment of a small or weak, towards a great and powerful nation, dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter.

Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens,) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake; since history and experience prove, that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of Republican Government. But that jealousy, to be useful, must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation, and excessive dislike of another, cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots, who may resist the intrigues of the favorite, are liable to become suspected and odious; while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.

The great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign nations, is, in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connexion as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop.

Europe has a set of primary interests, which to us have none, or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves, by artificial ties, in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.

Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain one people, under an efficient government, the period is not far off, when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality, we may at any time resolve upon, to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.

Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor, or caprice?

It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat it, therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But, in my opinion, it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them.

Taking care always to keep ourselves, by suitable establishments, on a respectable defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.

Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand; neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of commerce, but forcing nothing; establishing, with powers so disposed, in order to give trade a stable course, to define the rights of our merchants, and to enable the government to support them, conventional rules of intercourse, the best that present circumstances and mutual opinion will permit, but temporary, and liable to be from time to time abandoned or varied, as experience and circumstances shall dictate; constantly keeping in view, that it is folly in one nation to look for disinterested favors from another; that it must pay with a portion of its independence for whatever it may accept under that character; that, by such acceptance, it may place itself in the condition of having given equivalents for nominal favors, and yet of being reproached with ingratitude for not giving more. There can be no greater error than to expect or calculate upon real favors from nation to nation. It is an illusion, which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard.

In offering to you, my countrymen, these counsels of an old and affectionate friend, I dare not hope they will make the strong and lasting impression I could wish; that they will control the usual current of the passions, or prevent our nation from running the course, which has hitherto marked the destiny of nations. But, if I may even flatter myself, that they may be productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good; that they may now and then recur to moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism; this hope will be a full recompense for the solicitude for your welfare, by which they have been dictated.

How far in the discharge of my official duties, I have been guided by the principles which have been delineated, the public records and other evidences of my conduct must witness to you and to the world. To myself, the assurance of my own conscience is, that I have at least believed myself to be guided by them.

In relation to the still subsisting war in Europe, my Proclamation of the 22d of April 1793, is the index to my Plan. Sanctioned by your approving voice, and by that of your Representatives in both Houses of Congress, the spirit of that measure has continually governed me, uninfluenced by any attempts to deter or divert me from it.

After deliberate examination, with the aid of the best lights I could obtain, I was well satisfied that our country, under all the circumstances of the case, had a right to take, and was bound in duty and interest to take, a neutral position. Having taken it, I determined, as far as should depend upon me, to maintain it, with moderation, perseverance, and firmness.

The considerations, which respect the right to hold this conduct, it is not necessary on this occasion to detail. I will only observe, that, according to my understanding of the matter, that right, so far from being denied by any of the Belligerent Powers, has been virtually admitted by all.

The duty of holding a neutral conduct may be inferred, without any thing more, from the obligation which justice and humanity impose on every nation, in cases in which it is free to act, to maintain inviolate the relations of peace and amity towards other nations.

The inducements of interest for observing that conduct will best be referred to your own reflections and experience. With me, a predominant motive has been to endeavor to gain time to our country to settle and mature its yet recent institutions, and to progress without interruption to that degree of strength and consistency, which is necessary to give it, humanly speaking, the command of its own fortunes.

Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors. Whatever they may be, I fervently beseech the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which they may tend. I shall also carry with me the hope, that my Country will never cease to view them with indulgence; and that, after forty-five years of my life dedicated to its service with an upright zeal, the faults of incompetent abilities will be consigned to oblivion, as myself must soon be to the mansions of rest.

Relying on its kindness in this as in other things, and actuated by that fervent love towards it, which is so natural to a man, who views it in the native soil of himself and his progenitors for several generations; I anticipate with pleasing expectation that retreat, in which I promise myself to realize, without alloy, the sweet enjoyment of partaking, in the midst of my fellow-citizens, the benign influence of good laws under a free government, the ever favorite object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust, of our mutual cares, labors, and dangers."

George Washington
United States - September 17, 1796

One last time.